This is the Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat prototype in flight during the summer of 1940. Finish is the “Yellow Wings” scheme, overall aluminum with Orange Yellow wings. Note the large spinner, not fitted in series production. The spinner was an attempt to reduce drag, but it also contributed to engine overheating.
A fine photograph of an F4F-3 in an unusual paint scheme. The aircraft is in an overall aluminum scheme without the prescribed Orange Yellow on the wings. The Willow Green tail denotes an aircraft assigned to the USS Ranger (CV-4). (LIFE magazine photograph)
Three F4F-3 Wildcats of VF-5 from the USS Yorktown (CV-5) in the overall Light Gray scheme authorized on 30DEC40. Note the small size of the national insignia on the fuselage.
Three U.S. Marine F4F-3 Wildcats of VMF-111 pose for the photographer. They wear the overall Light Gray scheme. The temporary red cross markings denote the Red Force for the 1941 Louisiana War Games, which dates the photograph as being taken during August or September of that year. The devices mounted under the wings on the national insignia are practice bomb dispensers.
A wildcat in the Blue Gray over Light Gray scheme with the national markings as prescribed by CinCPAC on 23DEC41. These markings were only authorized for a short time, ALNAV97 required the red centers to the national insignia and the rudder stripes be painted over as of 06MAY42 to reduce the risk of confusion with the red Japanese Hinomaru.
Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Martlets and Seafires ready for launch as the HMS Formidable turns into the wind. Unlike their USN counterparts, the flight decks of British carriers were armored to reduce bomb damage, a feature which proved valuable when the Royal Navy faced Kamikaze attacks near the end of the Pacific War. The Illustrious class carriers had 3 inches (7.6 cm) of armor on their flight decks. The Midway class were the first US carriers with armored flight decks but the war ended before they saw combat.
A Martlet recovers aboard HMS Formidable. Note the camouflage paint on Formidable’s flight deck. At the far left of the photograph portion of an aircraft wing marked with a U.S. star insignia can be seen. British aircraft participating in Operation Torch were marked with U.S. insignia in the hopes that the Vichy French would not fire on American aircraft.
Not all Wildcats were carrier based. This view of a maintenance area on Guadalcanal shows the conditions faced by the aviation units fighting in the Solomons.
A beautiful LIFE magazine photograph showing a factory fresh FM-1 in the graded camouflage scheme to full advantage. The graded scheme was applied at the factory starting on 05JAN43. The barred insignia with the blue border was standardized on 14AUG43.
One of the Navy’s first war heroes, LT Edward “Butch” O’Hare poses in his flight gear in front of a Wildcat. Note that the flightsuit is worn over his standard khaki working uniform, complete with collar insignia and necktie. On 20FEB42 the USS Lexington (CV-2) was attacked by eighteen Mitsubishi G4M1 “Betty” bombers of the 4th Kōkūtai operating out of Rabaul. One formation of nine was detected while still at a distance from the ship and was destroyed. A second formation of nine was detected late, with only O’Hare and his wingman between the bombers and the Lexington. His wingman’s guns jammed, leaving O’Hare to attack the Japanese formation single-handedly. O’Hare was credited with shooting down five of the bombers and saving the Lexington, and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. His aircraft on that flight was F4F-3 BuNo 4031, coded “white 15”, which was lost in an accident later that day with another pilot at the controls.
Part II here: